Urban Planning Turns 50 Longtime observers say activist spirit of its 1960s creation still permeates the program

By Les Dunseith

Fifty years ago, moon landings made headlines, flower children flocked to Woodstock, and college campuses across the nation experienced sometimes-violent protest over issues such as the Vietnam War. As the turbulent ’60s gave way to the 1970s, it was a time of change. Unrest. New ideas.

And amid that backdrop of societal upheaval, the study of urban planning got its start at UCLA.

Donald Shoup, the longtime UCLA professor, was there to see it. Shoup had arrived at UCLA in 1968 as a postdoctoral scholar at the same time as Harvey S. Perloff, the founding dean of the new School of Architecture and Urban Planning, “who was a great figure in urban planning, of course.”

From the beginning, the UCLA planning program under Perloff reflected an activist ethos and a strong interest in equity. “I think that we look very carefully at income distribution and the effects of how any policy would affect lower-income people. We look at how to reverse that pattern,” Shoup said.

Jeffry Carpenter was also studying at UCLA in 1969, and he was among the first group of students to attain a degree in urban planning. “We were supposed to graduate in the summer of ’71. And some of us did,” Carpenter said with a laugh. “And some of us didn’t.”

Carpenter, who would go on to leadership roles as a planner for what was then known as the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and elsewhere, said graduate programs in planning were rare at the time — almost unprecedented.

“The challenge was that in the field, there was a profession. People were selling planning services, and there were planner positions and there were planning consultants, but there weren’t planning degrees,” Carpenter recalled.

When people like him got those first degrees, “the thought was that it would be something really useful. But the challenge was nobody knew exactly what that was,” Carpenter said. “We were — both the faculty and the students — still feeling our way.”

Nowadays, Shoup is a distinguished research professor whose landmark work on parking reform has had broad impact. He left Westwood in the early 1970s to work at the University of Michigan but returned to UCLA to stay in 1974. A year later, Allan Heskin joined him on the urban planning faculty and continued until he retired as a professor in 2001.

Urban planning with a social conscience is important to Heskin.

“I have a history of being an activist,” said Heskin, who oversaw student admissions for some time. “And I always looked for activist students — people who had done things in the world.”

During his two-and-a-half decades at UCLA, faculty and student planners were active in changing the approach of Los Angeles and other local cities to issues related to land use and housing affordability. UCLA scholars were highly influential in Santa Monica political reform, for example, and Heskin remembers that an early graduate, Gary Squier, “almost single-handedly created the housing department” for the city of Los Angeles. Squier, who died in 2012, became the city’s first housing director in 1990.

“Getting the city of L.A. to take responsibility for housing people in Los Angeles was just a major change,” Heskin recalled. “The city’s policy before the UCLA faculty and students did their thing was to say that housing is a federal responsibility, and the city doesn’t do it, and is not concerned!”

Marsha Brown B.A. ’70, who was a manager in the urban planning program at UCLA from 1980 to 2014, said, “There has always been a history of activism.”

The planning faculty and students “are very passionate about what they believe in — whether it’s housing or traffic or diversity or women’s issues. There’s always been a political bent to it,” Brown said. “The goal was always trying to make cities better for the people who live in them.”

Vinit Mukhija, professor and current chair of Urban Planning at UCLA, has been on the faculty since 2001.

He thinks a willingness to defy expectations has been central to the program’s enduring success.

“We never accepted narrow limits of planning or narrow definitions,” he said. “It’s not just land use and transportation and housing. It is much broader than that.”

Somewhat infamously, the program was abruptly split away from architecture in the 1990s and placed into what became the current Luskin School of Public Affairs. But many aspects of today’s UCLA planning program were allowed to blossom naturally over time.

Shoup sees the willingness of faculty to conduct research with students as colleagues as a key to success.

“I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of our program — the collegial relationships between the faculty and the students, and the cooperative learning.”

As faculty have come and gone, the planning program has changed. For instance, transportation planning became more prominent over time. That importance stands to reason in a city known for gridlock, Brown said. “In Los Angeles, transportation is important, you know.”

Another big change has been the gender balance. Shoup gave a recent example — each year he meets with incoming students and tells them why they might want to focus on transportation planning. In his most-recent meeting, “there were 17 women and one man. The complaint at one time was that there were very few women in transportation. So society has changed.”

And the program itself continues to evolve. In time for the 50th anniversary celebration in May 2020, Mukhija said an expanded partnership with Sciences Po in Paris will have been approved. It will offer dual degrees from both universities in a two-year course of study.

Carpenter, who was there in the beginning, thinks future success in urban planning and society as a whole will hinge on continuing to foster the intellectual curiosity of young people.

“The faculty of the school have a very keen appreciation of the powers of perception and understanding, and more particularly also realizing they need to prepare the students to be effective and assume a role and to grow in that role,” he said. “That’s a very encouraging development.”

Shoup on Battle Over Street Parking in Manhattan

A New York Times article on a Manhattan transportation panel’s proposal to do away with free street parking in a 50-block stretch of the Upper West Side cited Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning. New York City has installed miles of bus and bike lanes and banned cars from a major thoroughfare. Next year, it will start charging drivers in Manhattan’s most congested zones. Some drivers feel unfairly targeted, while many transportation advocates say car culture has been unjustly subsidized for too long. Shoup, who has long promoted pricing as a way for cities to manage parking demand, noted that New York is the only major city in the country that does not have some form of residential parking permit. Such permits are meant to let people with cars park near where they live and keep outsiders out.

Shoup on the Real Price of Free Parking

In an essay for CityLab, Distinguished Research Professor Donald Shoup used vivid examples to lay out his arguments for eliminating parking requirements in urban development. Shoup did the math on the real price of free parking: The average construction cost of a single parking space is $24,000 to $34,000 — more than the net worth of many U.S. households, he found. And nationwide, the area of off-street parking per car (about 900 square feet) is greater than the area of housing per human (about 800 square feet). “A flood of recent research has shown that parking requirements poison our cities, increasing traffic congestion, polluting the air, encouraging sprawl, raising housing costs, degrading urban design, preventing walkability, damaging the economy and penalizing everyone who cannot afford a car,” the urban planning professor wrote. He added, “Simply improving parking policies could be the cheapest, quickest and most politically feasible way to achieve many social, economic and environmental goals.”

L.A. Parking: How Did We Get Here?

When LAist set out to create a primer on the lightning-rod issue of L.A. parking — why it’s so exasperating, how we got here and where we are headed — it went straight to the experts at UCLA Luskin: Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies; Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning; and Associate Professor Michael Manville. As our reliance on cars grew in the years after World War II, minimum parking requirements were seen as essential, Matute said. Now, instead of too little parking in L.A., there is too much, Shoup argued. Some cities are relaxing parking requirements for new housing in high-density areas. After analyzing one such program, Manville found that it led to lower costs and more parking flexibility. The primer also cited Shoup’s book arguing that there is no such thing as free parking — the costs are just passed along to the entire community, including nondrivers.


 

Too Much Parking ‘Poisons Our Cities,’ Shoup Says

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, shared his expertise on parking pitfalls and reforms in a wide-ranging conversation on the American Planning Association’s “People Behind the Plans” podcast. Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking” and editor of the recent “Parking and the City,” spoke of the long history of inequitable policies and made a case for “parking benefit districts,” which reinvest parking revenues directly into neighborhood improvements. Government-mandated minimum parking requirements for businesses are “a disease masquerading as a cure,” one that “poisons our cities with too much parking,” he said. Such policies have led to vast but vacant Home Depot lots and a six-story underground structure at Disney Hall that discourages Angelenos from stepping outside to create a vibrant urban landscape. Shoup concluded, “If you want more housing and less traffic, you shouldn’t limit the amount of housing at every site and require ample parking everywhere.”


 

Image of undercover police officer standing next to disabled parking spot to monitor for "improper" use of disabled parking permits

Torres-Gil and Shoup on Disabled Parking Fraud

In a story about the Los Angeles City Council’s recent vote to increase the disabled-parking fraud fine from $250 to $1,100, the Los Angeles Times spoke to two UCLA Luskin authorities. Fernando Torres-Gil, social welfare and public policy professor and director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging, said that increasing disabled parking places, stiffening the fine and stepping up enforcement will not solve the problem of disabled parking fraud. Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning, added, “Someone who has a real disability should be very outraged at the lax enforcement of placard abuse and the lax enforcement of placard issuance.” Torres-Gil and Shoup advocate for a reform that would limit the number of disabled people who have access to the parking placards. They argued that the reform should not be feared. “Let’s just bite the bullet and deal with it now,” Torres-Gil said.


 

Man standing in unfinished garage

Garage Conversions Could Ease California Housing Crisis

Three UCLA Luskin-affiliated urban planning scholars co-authored a CityLab piece on single-car garage conversions as a way to ease the California housing crisis. The authors — Urban Planning Chair and Professor Vinit Mukhija, Distinguished Research Professor Donald Shoup and Anne Brown MURP ’14 Ph.D. ’18, an assistant professor of planning and policy at the University of Oregon — argued that homeowners should convert their garages into an apartment or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to create more affordable housing in California. “Garage apartments create horizontal, distributed and almost invisible density, instead of vertical, concentrated and obvious density,” they argued. These units not only create more affordable housing but provide new avenues of income for homeowners and more secure neighborhoods, they wrote. “America can reduce the homelessness problem with a simple acknowledgment: Garages would be much more valuable for people than for cars,” the authors concluded.


 

Shoup Book Makes Planetizen’s Top 10

Donald Shoup’s latest book, “Parking and the City,” is among Planetizen’s Top 10 books of 2018. Planetizen says, “Donald Shoup has already written one of the most influential and consequential books in planning history, ‘The High Cost of Free Parking.’ Feeding the momentum of Shoup’s ongoing influence is a legion of devoted acolytes, known as Shoupistas . . . Shoup writes with unparalleled wit and style on the formerly technocratic matter of parking regulations.” The book’s 50 contributors include 11 former UCLA Luskin Urban Planning master’s and doctoral students.  The list of best titles published in 2018 features the work of distinguished authors writing on topics that also examine natural and environmental disasters, including earthquakes and the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as poverty, public housing and sustainability. Shoup’s place in planning history was marked in 2018 with a spot on the American Planning Association’s timeline of key events in American city planning since 1900. “So long as it seemed impossible to reform parking policies, most planners didn’t think about trying,” Shoup said. “But attitudes toward parking policies are beginning to shift, and many planners now agree that parking reforms are both sane and practical.” — Stan Paul


 

Robert Poole: Rethinking America’s Highway Institutions

Robert Poole: Rethinking America’s Highway Institutions

Thursday, November 15
12:15 – 1:45 p.m.
Room 4320B, Public Affairs Building
Lunch will be served, beverages not provided
Robert Poole is the director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation and the author of the new book “Rethinking America’s Highways, in which he argues that 20th century governance and funding model for highways is failing to solve chronic problems such as congestion, deferred maintenance, and poor resource allocation decisions, in addition to inadequate funding. He argues that other major utilities (electricity, telecommunications, water supply) are governed and funded very differently from highways, and that major 21st century highways should be re-configured as network utilities. He cites precedents for this in other countries and in the better performance of U.S. toll roads than of comparable highways. He also outlines a possible transition from the status quo to highway utilities, starting with the Interstate highways.
Mr. Poole’s work has introduced HOT lanes, express toll lanes, dedicated truck lanes, and long-term public- private partnerships to U.S. transportation. He has advised federal and state transportation agencies, testified before congressional and legislative committees, and served on advisory boards and commissions.

Shoup Offers Remedy for Pensacola’s Parking Woes

Donald Shoup, distinguished research professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, recently spoke at Pensacola, Florida’s CivicCon to address the city’s chronic issues with parking, including huge swaths of unused parking lots. According to the Pensacola News Journal, Shoup proposed three reforms to improve the city’s inefficient parking system: remove off-street parking requirements, charge the right prices for on-street parking and use parking revenue to improve public services on the metered streets. Shoup gave in-depth breakdowns of how each idea would improve the system as a whole. He also cited real-world examples of cities, such as Pasadena, where identical reform programs were successfully implemented. The overarching message behind Shoup’s presentation was that Pensacola should replace all on-street parking with a meter system; money raised from the meters would go directly back into the community to fund civic improvements to infrastructure, landscaping and general beautification. If all of his recommendations were adopted, Shoup argued, they would work in tandem to increase foot traffic and property values.